Naima Yael Tokunow (née Woods) is an educator, writer and editor, currently living in New Mexico. Her work (and life) focus around interrogating black femme identity & privilege, social justice and black futurity. She is the author of three chapbooks, MAKE WITNESS, published in 2016 by Zoo Cake Press, Planetary Bodies, out from Black Warrior Review in 2019, and Shadow Black, the winner of Frontier’s 2020 Digital Chapbook Prize, chose by Pulitzer Prize winner, Jericho Brown. She is a four-time Pushcart Prize nominee, a TENT Residency Fellow & has attended The Home School workshop in Miami. She proudly edits the Black Voice Series for Puerto del Sol and the Scarlet blog for Jaded Ibis. New work is published or forthcoming from bone bouquet, Bayou, Winter Tangerine, Nat. Brut, juked, Diagram and elsewhere. More information is available at naimaytokunow.com. She is blessed to be black and alive.
Funny, I thought Effigee would be a woman,
her story stretched out soft coal and sorry before me,
somebody’s mama who was first named after a burning.
That says so much about how we’re socialized
to think of black femininity, the lip of a girl already a fire,
her name hanging from a tree, a ready-made kindling.
We make effigies to burn the living or remember the dead,
and at seventeen, this Sam(p)son, whose hair was surely cut,
worked on a farm with his father,
while his mama washed stink out of white folks’ clothes,
and I know that she smelled heavily of lye and had
hands whose skin was always soft and sloughing off.
The baby of eleven, I can imagine that Effigee’s head
came out full of hair, that sweet curd of a newborn
stippling his face and maybe before his color came
in he had screamed himself red, his near-back eyes
closed and fingers splayed—a twinkling combustible,
already itching for a fire and someone in the kitchen said,
Can’t believe she’s still making children, huh? and Mama Rosa
closed her eyes and felt her last baby calm against
her breast, his heat running beads of sweat between them.